Opinion: Is it end of the road for Raila Odinga?
by Leonard Khafafa,
Fame and Ignominy are the names of two border towns divided from each other by an indeterminate strip of ‘no man’ s land.’ Despite the fact that they belong to two different countries, no visas are required to cross from one town to the other.
There are no customs officers to enforce ad valorem duties nor does Border Patrol exist to deter illegal immigrants as is the case in some countries. Whereas it is exceptionally easy to cross over from Fame to Ignominy, the reverse, from Ignominy to Fame is a slow arduous task fraught with great risk and littered with the detritus of those who failed to make the crossing.
Raila Amolo Odinga is arguably the greatest “come back kid” of Kenya’s tumultuous post independence politics. Perhaps even more than former president Daniel Arap Moi, he has consistently occupied the country’s national psyche, attracting in equal measure adulation bordering on fanaticism from his supporters and opprobrium from his critics who see him as the bogeyman responsible for every conceivable misfortune that bedevils Kenya.
Raila was first thrust into national limelight during the infamous coup attempt of August 1982.President Moi had at that time become increasingly unpopular and autocratic.
The events that precipitated the coup were largely informed by a desire by Moi to be rid of certain elements from the previous Jomo Kenyatta regime who had sought to prevent him from ascending to the presidency after the founding father of the nation’s death.
The coup had two factions of plotters who, failing to work in tandem, rendered the effort a spectacular failure, brutally crushed by forces loyal to Moi.
One of the factions was comprised of the shadowy Kiambu ‘Mafia’ led by Mbiyu Koinange. The other, in which Raila participated as a foot soldier had the hand of Charles Njonjo, an former Attorney General and erstwhile confidant of Moi.
While Charles Njonjo suffered no more than a slap on the wrist for his role in the coup, Raila Odinga was arrested and detained without trial for close to a decade. That Moi ‘the visionary’ saw in Raila an existential threat that had to be contained is the subject of conjecture. What is indubitable is that Raila’s detention was detrimental not only to his physical health but also to the well being of his immediate family who paid the price of freedom through incessant state harassment.
But the great “come back kid” fared relatively well in comparison to other political detainees like Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia. The latter two were systematically broken in spirit and body by state operatives and became pale shadows of their former selves. Raila on the other hand, came out of detention bolder than ever, though he suffered irreparable damage to his eyesight.
At the advent of the return of multi party politics in 1991-92, Raila was among those agitating for increased democratic space. Whilst Moi was re-elected president, Raila made his entry to parliament as the Lang’ata Constituency Member of Parliament. This was under the Ford Kenya party led by His father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. When Jaramogi died, Raila and the Vice Chairman Wamalwa Kijana had a fall out on matters of principle. Raila then resigned from Ford Kenya, formed another party NDP, sought fresh mandate from the constituents of Lang’ata and made it back to Parliament by a landslide victory. Again, his “come back” prowess shone through when it was assumed that he had made a tactical blunder.
The year 2002 found Raila serving as Secretary-general of KANU, having acquiesced to a merger with his erstwhile nemesis Moi’s political party. Moi’s intention was to dupe Raila into folding up NDP with the promise of a fair chance at the presidency upon Moi’s retirement. With time, Moi revealed his true intentions by unilaterally endorsing Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor.
At the time, Moi’s word was law. He was not accustomed to being disobeyed having ruled by fiat from 1978. Raila changed that. Dissatisfied with Moi’s choice of heir, he orchestrated a walk out on Moi which caused KANU to implode.
The party that was to have ruled for a hundred years suffered a mortal blow that decimated the numbers that had been it’s strength. The ‘Project’, as Uhuru was known went on to suffer humiliating defeat under Mwai Kibaki with Raila being in the winning team. What Moi had imagined as check-mating his ‘thorn-in – the-flesh’ Raila, turned out to be his undoing and the dearth of KANU politics.
Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga amongst others, having formed government in 2003 were soon to fall out over the implementation of the controversial ‘Memorandum of Understanding,’ which was essentially a raft of agreements on power sharing that had been predetermined before the elections of 2002. Mwai Kibaki, acceding to the dictates of a cabal of power brokers disregarded significant sections of the agreement to the chagrin of bona fide stakeholders.
Matters came to a head during the 2005 referendum which Kibaki lost overwhelmingly to Raila’s side. Kibaki reacted by dissolving his cabinet and bringing jaded faces from KANU back to government. The indefatigable Raila responded by forming a brand new outfit named ODM whose sole purpose was to wrest power from Kibaki.
The election of 2007was aptly named ‘the battle of the Titans’, pitting Kibaki against Raila. Amidst allegations of electoral fraud and other malpractice, Kibaki was sworn in for a second term as president under cover of darkness both literally and figuratively.
The country exploded. It took the intervention of the ‘entire world’ led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to bring about ‘Pax Kenya.’ The culmination of this negotiated peace resulted in a government of national unity with Raila as Prime Minister. Once again, “the come back kid” had arisen from the ashes.
The election of 2013 was the turning point that marked the exit of Raila from government. But it did not diminish his continued role as an anti corruption crusader and an agitator for institutional reform.
He kept the government of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto on it’s toes through exposure of schemes intended to defraud Kenyans off billions.
Raila’s exposés led to the exit of the entire electoral body IEBC’s commissioners under a cloud of suspicion. In this regard, Raila acted as the bastion of democracy and leader of opposition.
The elections of 2017 have been unlike any other in terms of extended duration and the balkanization of the county along ethnic lines. Kenyatta is the duly elected President. Raila does not recognize Jubilee’s electoral win. And he is supported by 14 County governments who have voted to establish what they call People’s Assemblies.
This is to ostensibly bring national decision making to the grassroots of the nation. The Jubilee administration sees this as a nefarious plot by Raila’s NASA brigade to seize power through the back door. None less than the state’s Attorney General has pronounced himself abundantly clear that he deems any attempt to swear Raila as president of these Assemblies is nothing short of treason.
Has Raila for once, lost the plot? Has he bitten off more than he can chew? Has he, like the proverbial cat with nine live used up all his “come-backs?” These are the questions foremost on every Kenyan’s lips.
And there is a sense of foreboding as Tuesday 12th December draws near, a feeling that violent confrontation is in the offing when Raila is sworn in as his die-hard supporters have vowed.
The government has in recent times demonstrated a proclivity for violent suppression of what it considers illegal. It has warned that no exceptions will be forTuesday‘s events.
There are mixed reactions all over the country. There are those who heap quotidian platitudes on Raila. To them, he represents hope and inclusion in the sharing of the nation’s resources.
Then there are others who blame Raila for the current state of unease that has contributed to the downturn of the economy. To these, the government is a tad too slow in cracking the whip on Raila, to consign him once and for all to permanent retirement in the town of Ignominy. Lastly , there are moderates from both sides of the divide pushing for dialogue
Going by events on the international scene, the current global dispensation does not favour Raila. Not if he takes on the route of violence with government.
This is why. Whereas in times past, the West indulged and actively supported confrontation with recalcitrant governments, policy has since shift to the pursuance of individual national interests. A blind eye is turned as long as those committing atrocities do not tamper with Western interest.
There is no more ‘human rights’ or ‘democratic space’ as a precondition for issuance of aid. In addition, the West have problems of their own. Spain is battling with restive Catalan region, Britain with Brexit while America under Donald Trump has an ‘America First’ policy. Germany is yet to have a government in place.
That the West has given lip service to the deaths of tens of victims of election related violence in Kenya speaks volumes about her levels of engagement. Mute to the cries of the bereaved, just as tone deaf to the calls of the Rohingya as they are to secessionists in Catalonia.
The tacit statement made here is that we are on our own. We no longer have recourse to the international community for violation of basic human rights
Next week’s swearing in ceremony will be resisted by the law. That is the government’s promise. The events of the last six months are telling .
There is a predilection to anarchy by a section of Raila’s supporters and a propensity to unleash unmitigated terror by agents of the state. How Raila acquits himself in the face of this will determine whether he goes down in history as resident of Fame or Ignominy.
Leonard Khafafa, Vice Chairman of The Kenya-Turkey Business Council.